The importance of dairy and alternative foods for infants and toddlers
Dairy foods include items such as milk, cheese and yoghurt. These foods play an important role in our diet as they contain vital nutrients such as calcium, for strong bones and teeth, protein, for the growth and repair of muscle tissue, vitamins, such as B12 and other nutrients such as iodine, riboflavin and potassium.
Milk Choices for Infants and Toddlers – What are the recommendations?
Public Health England recommend that we include some milk and dairy foods (or dairy alternatives), such as cheese, yoghurt and fromage frais, everyday.
It’s recommended to offer children three portions of milk and dairy foods daily. However, the National Diet and Nutrition Survey highlighted that 19% of girls aged 11- 18 years had very low calcium intakes.
Recommended daily portion sizes of milk and dairy foods to meet calcium needs:
Infants and Young Children:
- ½ glass (100-150ml) of whole milk (from 12 months) +
- 100g pot of plain full- fat yoghurt (from 6 months) +
- 15g of hard cheese- small cubes (from 6 months).
Primary School Children:
- ¾ glass of semi- skimmed milk +
- A 150g pot of low fat yoghurt +
- 20g of hard cheese.
Male and Female Adults:
- 1 glass of semi- skimmed milk +
- 150g pot of plain low fat yoghurt +
- Hard cheese- about the size of a matchbox.
The main milk choice for infants is breastmilk or first infant formula. You can find out about milk choices for baby in our Feeding your Baby in the First Year (opens in new tab) e-guide (for parents) or Food and Nutrition for Infants (opens in new tab) training (for early years practitioners).
Cow’s milk should not be given as a main milk drink until baby is 1 year old. This is because it does not contain the right balance of energy and nutrients for babies.
You can find out more about choosing milk and alternative milks for toddlers in our blog ‘Which Milk Should I Offer My Toddler? (opens in new tab)‘.
Should we have full fat or low fat milk and dairy products?
Young children Under 1:
- Should either have breast milk or stage 1 infant formula.
- Whole (full fat) pasteurised milk can be used as an ingredient in infants food from the age of 6 month, however it is NOT suitable as a main drink until they are over the age of 1 year.
- Babies under 1 year old should not be given condensed, evaporated or dried milk, or other drinks referred to as ‘milk’, such as rice, oat or almond drinks.
- Offer full-fat yohurts, fromage frais, cheese and cream cheese for children up to the age of two years.
- Babies can have full-fat cheese up to the age of two years.
- Babies and young children should not eat: mould-ripened soft cheese, such as brie or camembert, ripened goats’ milk cheese like chevre, soft blue-veined cheese like roquefort. These cheeses may carry bacteria called listeria. You can check labels.
Top tips for children:
- Children over the age of two who are growing well and eating a healthy balanced diet can have low-fat varieties of yogurts, fromage frais, cheese and cream cheese.
- Children over 1 year of age should have no more than 350-500mls of cows milk, including any milk in foods. Any more than this is likely to spoil a child’s appetite for other foods and could worsen any fussy eating behaviours
- Goats’ and sheep’s milk can be provided for children over the age of one year.
- Current UK public health guidance is that unsweetened, fortified milk alternatives (with the exception of rice-based milk alternatives) can be used as a non-dairy alternative to cow’s milk for children over the age of one year. You can find out more information on milk alternatives in our blog ‘Which Milk Should I Offer My Toddler? (opens in new tab)‘
- Try to incorporate dairy foods at snack time, such as cheese and crackers, bagel with cream cheese and fruit with yoghurt
- Include some milk based puddings in the week, such as rice pudding, unsweetened custard and fromage frais.
Individuals wishing to cut down on their fat intakes, should opt for 1% or skimmed milks. They contain all the important nutritional benefits of milk, but contain about half the fat found in semi- skimmed milk. Adults can opt for reduced fat cheese and reduced or low fat yoghurt.
Top tips for adults:
- Try 1% fat milk which contains around half the fat of semi skimmed milk without compromising the taste or texture
- If cheese is used to flavour a dish or sauce, opt for strong or mature cheese, such as mature cheddar, as the more intense flavour means less needs to be used
- Try low fat cheese such as cottage cheese or quark
- Opt for low fat and low sugar yoghurt such as natural, plain or Greek yoghurt- try adding fruit to naturally sweeten them.